It's not the 2015 Ford Expedition's fault that few people purchase full-size SUVs these days. Reduced to a mere two percent of the total automotive market, big truck-based people haulers have been largely displaced by more efficient, smoother-driving crossovers, which over the course of the last ten years have contributed to a near five-fold decrease in the number of Expeditions heading out the door at Ford dealerships.
For a time it seemed like the Blue Oval might be giving up on what was once its flagship SUV, letting it languish with a weak drivetrain and yesterday's technology while every other member of the Ford family benefited from new investment in both areas. It would seem that the Ford Expedition's time has finally come with the 2015 model year, as the new vehicle boasts fresh features and an engine that together have a shot at reinvigorating the truck for a new family audience.
EcoBoost At Last
Ford has gone all-in with its EcoBoost strategy, giving all vehicles big and small, turbocharged engines designed to punch above their weight class when it comes to power while sipping fuel at more relaxed rate than would a large-displacement motor. As recently as 2014 the Ford Expedition had been left out of the EcoBoost love-fest, forced to stagger forward with one of the oldest motors in the company's portfolio - a 310 horsepower, 5.4-liter V-8 - as its sole motivator.
This has all changed for the 2015 Ford Expedition, which now benefits from the same 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 offered with the similarly-sized Ford F-150 pickup. The twin-turbo V-6 pushes out significantly more horsepower than the eight-cylinder unit it replaces, with a rating of 365, and it also adds 55 lb-ft of torque to the Expedition's revised stats, bringing the total to 420 lb-ft. The effect on the SUV's driving character is immediate and positive. Gone are the days of taking a run up steep highway hills with a full load, or hoping you have enough room to complete your pass: the new Expedition's acceleration and hauling power are class-competitive with the V-8 engines offered under the hood of challengers like the Chevrolet Tahoe / Suburban and the Nissan Armada.
Ford has elected to stand pat when it comes to the Expedition's transmission, which remains a six-speed automatic with select-shift capability. Even so, we've been promised a fuel efficiency improvement of roughly 15 percent once official numbers are made public closer to the SUV's September, 2014 on-sale date. Four-wheel drive with low-range gearing remains optional with the Expedition, and its towing capacity holds steady at 9,200 lbs despite the additional grunt from the new engine.
A Spring In Its Step
No one would ever accuse a massive SUV like the 2015 Ford Expedition of being light on its feet, but it's worth noting that unlike the Chevrolet Tahoe / GMC Yukon the Expedition is outfitted with an independent rear suspension system that keeps it more stable over rough surfaces and at higher speeds. Aiding and abetting the Expedition's chassis is a new optional continuously-controlled damping system, an electronically-managed system lifted straight from the almost-forgotten Lincoln Navigator. Although it features a Sport mode that aims to tighten up the vehicle's handling, I found the system most rewarding when either left in Normal or set to Comfort, with the latter setting absorbing more bumps and bounces than I would have expected. Electric power steering also debuts for 2015, and I'm happy to report it's well-executed in the Expedition with little of the vagueness sometimes seen with this feature.
Staying competitive as a big SUV means more than just towing and power - it also requires a well thought out interior package that takes passenger needs and comfort into account. The 2015 Ford Expedition has seen its cabin thoroughly modernized and now benefits from the availability of the newest MyFord Touch system. Consisting of a center-mounted touchscreen that controls most major vehicle functions, as well as a pair of smaller displays to the right and left of the vehicle's speedometer, MyFord Touch updates the Expeditions infotainment, communications, and navigation functionality to stay competitive with GM's MyLink/IntelliLink systems. Ford has worked hard to improve the user experience associated with its touchscreen design, and while it' still not for everyone it does offer one of the friendlier interfaces in the business.
Up to eight passengers can ride inside the Expedition, with the option of second-row captain's chairs to reduce that number to seven. There's an exceptional amount of space to be had underneath the SUV's roof, regardless of whether the standard 119-inch wheelbase or extended (Expedition EL) 131-inch wheelbase is ordered. The former packs in 108.3 cubic feet of total cargo room, while the latter trounces all comers with 130.8 cubes in total. Part of Ford's secret to such a cavernous interior has to do with its suspension design: that same independent rear that keeps the Expedition planted in the corners helps free up enough usable area underneath the SUV to maintain a totally flat load floor with the rear rows folded forward.
Ford has also moved the Platinum trim level over from the F-150 full-size truck to the Expedition order sheet for 2015, which brings with it niceties such as full leather seating, additional detailed interior and exterior trim, retractable running boards, and enormous 22-inch rims. On the safety side, you can get a blind spot monitoring system with both the stylized King Ranch model (think saddle leather) and the Platinum edition of the SUV.
The 2015 Ford Expedition emerges from this latest refresh much stronger than it was before - maybe not quite at the level of the Denali-edition GMC Yukon, but certainly on par with its Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban nemesis. Despite the 15 percent fuel mileage improvement, it's still going to hurt to use a vehicle as large as the Expedition as a daily driver when compared to a similarly-sized crossover, but the SUV gives you a level of towing and cargo capacity that's impossible to find outside of the large utility segment.
I mentioned the Lincoln Navigator earlier on, specifically to call out how much faster its star has faded than either its Expedition platform-mate or surging Cadillac Escalade rival. Less than 9,000 Navigators were sold last year in the United States, and while the 2015 edition of that luxury 'ute sees many of the same improvements afforded its Ford sibling, the pricing and options structure of the Expedition make it hard to understand why anyone would pay a premium for essentially the same content wrapped in a Lincoln package. This says more about how much better the Ford Expedition has become than it does about the quality of what the Navigator has to offer, but considering the capability and available luxury that can now be had with the Blue Oval model, it wouldn't surprise me if the Navigator is either given the full crossover treatment or relegated to the retirement home in the near future.